Thursday, 7 February 2013

Where To Bury A King?

This, as you will no doubt have guessed, is my take on where the body of King Richard III should be buried.  This is from my personal perspective as an amateur historian, from Wales with no preference either to Leicester or Yorkshire, simply using the current facts:

First let us consider Yorkshire's case.  Richard came from the North, having been born in Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire.  He was of the House of York.  However David Lloyd George was born in Manchester, yet due to moving at a very young age to Wales is known as the Welsh Wizard - and there are many other examples, so I have to say this is a less than compelling case.

Leicester's case.  Richard III died in battle near Leicester.  He was buried in Greyfriars with care and great respect to his status, in what we now know to be a place reserved for those of high office.  They intended it to be his last resting place, and it was one of privilege accorded only to respected individuals of high office.  Even after his death, and now under Tudor rule, the locals respected him and did not speak ill of him.  A far more compelling case.

However, there is more.  Leicester County Council allowed the archaeologists to dig in the car-park of one of their major services which undoubtedly caused them some disruption.  They did so on the understanding that if Richard's remains were found they would remain in Leicester.  Any reader who has seen Time Team knows how many trenches they have to dig to find what they are looking for, and in their case it is almost always something the size of a village or at least a substantial building.  Imagine then the chances of finding an object which when alive would have only been about 5'4 x 4' x 2'.  Even given they were digging in the vicinity of the old abbey, Richard's would not have been the only body buried there by any means.  The words 'needle' and 'haystack' do not even begin to do justice to the issue, yet the council made that bargain.

Whether or not it was with altruistic aims is another matter.  Leicester kept faith with the archaeologists throughout.  A cynic - yes me again - might say 'They're only saying that because of the increased tourism that would come to Leicester if it were known worldwide that their cathedral was the last resting place of such a notorious king'.  Whether that is right or not in the case of Leicester, it is easier to believe of others.  Had Yorkshire genuinely believed that Richard should be buried there, surely they would have said as soon as a body was discovered 'If it is proven to be Richard he should be buried here'.  However, they didn't even make a sound until it was proven beyond reasonable doubt that the remains are those of Richard III.  That, a cynic may say, is the act of someone wanting the tourism that Richard's burial would attract without having done anything to support the find in the first place.

As you may already have guessed, my personal feeling is that Richard should remain in Leicester, as the monks who originally buried him intended he should.

[While writing this the news has come in that Richard III is to remain in Leicester, so I think justice has been done to, and for, him.]